March in D.C.

On March 24th of 2018 (over a week ago as I finish this post), I rode down in a bus to the Capitol with several other students to take part in the March for Our Lives.

IMG_1408
A random photo I took before my iPhone died (damn battery)

It was just last February that the Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida occurred, just one of many shootings to occur since the Massacre at Columbine shocked the nation. Every time we have had gun violence hit the media–be it at a school, a theater, or a church–there was strong request for change, for regulations on who can and who can’t use guns. The people in power have offered there sympathies to the bereaved, but time and time again have been either unable or unwilling to bring about strong reform.

After Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Vegas, and several other such tragedies, Parkland was basically the last straw; the Stoneman Douglas students got mobilized.

The crowd that day contained hundreds of thousands of people, loudly chanting for change and reparation. While otherwise a chilly day, the collective heat of the crowds was enough to make the air shimmer. Every now and again as we stood, some individuals would start a chant and it would rip like a tsunami right across the bulk of the gathered masses.

Between performances by various celebrities, survivors and advocates came up onstage and decried the violence they had been forced to endure, the NRA for stonewalling gun-control efforts, and the politicians who have allowed the violence to go on for this long.

Many relevant things were said during the main rally, most of which I can only barely recall through the haze of strong emotion (as well as due to getting a sunburn; it was very bright that day).

Stoneman Douglas survivors such as Emma Gonzales and David Hoggs gave us heartfelt and charged speeches regarding the trauma of surviving an event no student should ever have to endure, while emphasizing the need for change and the importance of our making ourselves heard. Gonzales’s speech in particular was powerful for the short silent break in it, roughly the same length of time as the six minutes in which the Parkland shooter killed its victims.

A portion of the crowd (either out of cluelessness or discomfort) attempted to fill the silence with chants. It was kind of disrespectful; I hope they weren’t too loud on the news coverage.

Naomi Wadler, a young african-american girl from Virginia, also spoke to remind us of the continued violence in minority communities that children like her have to endure, as did guest speakers Edna Chavez from Los Angeles and Trevon Bosley of Chicago, cities where people of color in poorer communities have come to live with everyday urban gun violence out on the street, where such violence has been a fact of life for a long while. Both Chavez and Bosley lost siblings to violence, and have seen it out and around in their neighborhood. Minority and impoverished communities are swarming in death and violence that goes unreported by the media, and I am glad to see that this rally included them as well.

My personal highlight for the event was when Yolanda King, the young granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., came up on the stage and said her peace. As her assassinated grandfather dreamed of freedom from inequality, so she too stated she dreams that we would no more experience tragedy administered by random acts of gun violence.

There was plenty more that was said, plenty more that was expressed. The survivors of other shootings and urban violence came up and expressed support and commitment, there were tells and shouts and much expression, and so much hope that we could finally get something of substance to be accomplished.


There are those who oppose the advocation for gun legislature, the members of the NRA being the most influential (and the ones who got the loudest boos).

Despite what the button on my lapel might have said, I do not consider myself literal “anti-gun”. As someone who hunts game in the fall, I don’t personally have a problem with owning and knowing how to properly use a firearm. However, I do not see any reason why we should not regulate the sale and ownership of guns, especially the almost military-grade “sports” rifle such as the AR-15 often favored by public shooters.

Seriously, why do civilians need automatic or semiautomatic weaponry (which can be modified to be fully automatic)? They are practically the same thing that active duty soldiers use, and they are required to be fully trained and disciplined before they can use those types of gun in combat. An automatic weapon is not typically designed to be a toy nor a hunting rifle; it is designed to kill or maim as many PEOPLE as possible. And anyone can buy one in more states than not without any sort of background check or mental health evaluation. I mean, if the person holding the weapon is the problem rather than the weapon itself, then should we not be okay with refusing to let the problem has access to weapons?

While the AR15 is not an assault rifle ( is referred to as a modern sports rifle by various entities in the business), it is legally an assault weapon and is a favorite choice for mass shootings.

An 18 year old kid can’t drink beer, and they need to pass a crap ton of tests and practice before they can have a license, yet they are perfectly able to walk into a store or to the back of a white van and pick up an assault weapon for just the right amount of CASH.

For the love of God, we have limits on the First Amendment to prevent the use of free speech to harm (e.g. a person can be arrested if they shout “Fire!” into a crowded room for the sole purpose of causing panic), why not modify the Second Amendment to better work in the modern age? Sure, it won’t stop kids and crooks from being able to get guns illegally, but it will make it harder for disturbed individuals to access weapons in general (plus, any sort of background evaluation ought to raise red flags that would draw attention upon any suspicious character).

People talk about arming school teachers to better defend their students, and some schools have started perform lockdown drills with officers shooting blank rifles due to new safety regulations. There is nothing here about preventing the likelihood of a shooting occurring, just arming stressed-out and untrained civilians while teaching children that death and violence are things to which they should become accustomed.

Call me crazy, but I think a school should be a safe zone where we concentrate on learning and growing without wondering which of our classmates may one day decide to murder us (or which one of our students we might have to execute in the future).

The majority of Generation Z is has reached or is reaching voting age, and come this November those who have registered will have the power to vote out those who oppose change, whose indecision would allow the continued existence of policies and practices that allow such tragedies to continue.


On a related note, let us return to the topic of minority communities. To the day, black and hispanic people in this nation still often get the short end of the stick. Their schools are underfunded, their families often can’t make ends meet, and the people in charge are often either indifferent or hostile. The minority communities experience the largest amount of gun violence in the United States, yet they also receive the least amount of news coverage and reaction compared to predominately well-to-do white communities.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement started in 2014 in response in part to Michael Brown’s death (shot a total of 12 times by an allegedly  threatened Officer Darren Wilson, who was later cleared of charges), and has been continuing steadily. It has not been receiving the same amount of recognition and support as the #NeverAgain movement started by Emma Gonzales and the Parkland survivors. In fact, it has been classified as an extremist organization by the FBI (very same agency that was AT LEAST indirectly complicit to the assassination of Martin Luther King jr.) simply because they are protesting (peacefully, I might add) and unfair justice system. Apparently the FBI has pinned unrelated violent protests by individual black individuals as something everyone connected to the movement would sanction or commit. In the mean time, people of color still continue to leave in general poor, stressful, and unsafe conditions.

Because the Parkland shooting involved a rather well-to-do, predominantly white community, there was a lot more public outrage concerning the event. As a result, it was school shootings that got most of the coverage in debate over gun safety.

Incidentally, the Parkland Shooter (a 17 year old who definitely knew what he was doing) was often talked about as being a troubled child and bullying victim (the guy had a history of rage and brutality, and there were people at the school who tried to befriend him in spite of it) who is being kept safe in protective custody, whereas black boys get shot, beaten, and killed by dumbass officers who immediately assume they’re “threatening” them.

As I believe Edna Chavez described in her speech, the officers aren’t any help to the community because they are likely to profile and arrest the children of color rather than protect and aid them. I don’t care that not all officers are like that, it’s still a problem that there are at least a small crowd of them THAT ARE.

I live in a rural community, so this has always been a distant problem to me. None the less, I recognize the urban violence that occurs among the less well off and marginalized demographics is just as relevant a problem to the American people as the growing tendency we have towards experiencing school shootings. Circumstances like these should not be normal for anyone, people should not have to experience the trauma of live-or-death situations in their everyday lives, let alone live in neighborhoods that are practically war zones.

In the poor urban communities, people have no aid, no money, no jobs, and they often turn to crime and violence out of desperation and fear. They don’t use assault weapons (except for the bigger gangs) but the common pistol can just as easily kill you as any other projectile weapon. Here, the problem is definitely lack of care for those of us leaving poverty. When things happen to people of color in poverty (or really poor people in general), it tends to be seen as not a concern of the nation as a whole but just of that specific demographic.

There is a lot more about marginalized poor communities besides urban violence of which I am opinionated or infuriated, especially my inability to do shit about it, but that can be saved for later actions.

Anyway, the movement started by the Parkland crowd have an agenda I support and think others ought to as well, and people such as #BlackLivesMatter and other advocates for improving life in marginalized communities need the support too. I think it is important that those who can change things actually goddamn improve things. Granted, I can’t know everything about anything, and there will always be stuff of which I am incorrect, but I am damn well sure that a safer, kinder America is one I want to live in.

In the mean time, I need to get back to sorting out my thesis project (and probably go to bed at some point, it’s already past midnight where I am). Goodnight.

 

Advertisements

Net Neutrality: Jeopardy Approachs

dont-tread-on-net2

As a denizen of the internet, I am very much fond of the existence of Net Neutrality. I very much like that I can that some company is not controlling what sites I can and cannot access, that there are no extreme limitations in my country on what I can learn from the greater web and with whom I can share it, that those who provide me with internet are not actively censoring what websites I can access (I could probably do with less spying, but that’s not why I’m irked today).

For the most part, the point of Net Neutrality is that companies should not have undue control over your internet usages and access. Sure, a company can supply you with faster access for a fee, but if allowed too much control they can actively block or or manipulate the sort of websites you are able to visit or discover.

In 2015, after years of debating, advocating, and denied proposals, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a set of rules that would allow for strong and sustainable upholding of Net Neutrality (second link down from top). In the past any such development was often blocked by companies such as IBM and Verizon, who apparently see it as detrimental to businesses that deal in broadband internet access. There has also been argument in the recent past that such regulations prevent progress of internet technology by discouraging competition on the marketplace between internet service providers.

None the less, we did have regulations put in place that treat the internet as a utility and therefore something that to which everyone deserves as equal as possible access.

It was announce back in November that on December 14th of 2017 that Congress is going to be voting on a proposal by the FCC chairman Ajit Pai to repel the Commission’s current policy regarding Net Neutrality in the United States. Perhaps it could allow for an internet-provider free market, but it would definitely upon up greater risk for companies like Verizon gaining a stifling monopoly, crushing hard on startups and entrepreneurs.

Faulty or not, the concept of Net Neutrality is meant to protect our human rights in the digital world and preventing the massive corporations from throttling and stifling websites and services that don’t benefit their agendas.

Want to express support for Net Neutrality? You can start here.

 

 

Sources

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/11/21/the-fcc-has-unveiled-its-plan-to-rollback-its-net-neutrality-rules/?utm_term=.da055de993ab

http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2015/db0226/DOC-332260A1.pdf

http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2017/db1204/DOC-348056A1.pdf

https://www.npr.org/2017/11/25/566438811/whats-next-for-net-neutrality

 

Border Crossing

I recently read about this claim floating around about how a significantly higher number of people had been deported under the Obama administration than any other. Statistically, it is true that the numbers are higher. However, according to Snopes.com, this is due to a change in the definition of the term “deportation” rather than an increase in the number of people being deported. Before the Bush administration, someone caught in the act of crossing the border would just be turned back without being put on record. As of the Bush administration, however, such people get fingerprinted and officially deported.

There are, of course, other variables that must be taken into account, such as the fact that the number of people apprehended by Border Patrol officers has apparently risen since 2008 (coinciding with a slump in the amount of illegal crossings of the Mexican border), as well as the fact that the ICE has a quota of detainees that it needs to have its custody daily (established in 2009 by lawmakers who thought that there was not enough being done to deport unlawful immigrants), which means that they have been reaching deep into the legal justice system to round up any criminals potential eligible for deportation. This can possibly be part of a trend started in 1986 by the passing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act that encouraged the deportation of any immigrant guilty of an applicable offense and had allowed following legislations to bias against the discretion of a judge to grant relief from deportation in certain cases.

The number of people entering the US from Mexico apparently had gone significantly down back in 2015. According to this article I read, the net flow of mexicans entering the US was currently negative, meaning that immigrants who had entered previously were now moving back to Mexico in greater numbers than the people entering. Tougher Border Patrol practices were cited as a reason for less people entering, while a desire for reuniting with families was mentioned as a main reason for returning. A factor that influences both is the fact that opportunities in both Mexico and the US are now viewed as about the same by the citizens of the latter, which means that less desperate people are motivated to seek out their fortunes in the strange land up north. In some cases, the reason to return was apparently because there was not much opportunity for work in the US.

As the number of people from Mexico declined, the number of people immigrating from elsewhere apparently rose a bit, so the rate has been more or less stable in the past few years. As usual, more information about the topic can be found in the links below.

As of the tail end of 2016, uncertainty about the current administration could also be considered a factor in the decrease in immigration from the south.

For undocumented children raised in the US, the current atmosphere is one of anxiety and uncertainty. The immigration policy known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” provides limited protection from deportation for illegal immigrants brought in as children, as well as allowing them to earn money and attend schools. The Trump campaign site had promised to end DACA as part of the overall plan to toughen down on illegal immigrants, although it currently still remains in place.

As far as the wall across the border we’ve all been hearing about is concerned, while designs have been made, physical construction cannot begin before congress approves of it, and the President Nieto of Mexico consistently has stated that his country will not be paying for it as the US President has claimed. If the US government has to fund the entire project, they are going to make up for it with increased tariffs, increased travel visa /border crossing fees, and just a general border adjustment taxes on us citizens.

On a personal note, it has been almost five years since my passport expired, and I am currently working on renewing it.

Sources:

Snopes.com

Migration Flows Between the US and Mexico have Slowed

5 Facts about Illegal Immigration

Undocumented Students in US Face Anxious Future

Donald Trump’s Mexico Wall: Who is Going to Pay for It?

Concerning Alternative Facts

In the legal profession, the term “alternative facts” may refer to two or more competing sets of facts for the two sides of a case. It can also mean a set of inconsistent facts put forth by just the one side that show there’s sufficient evidence to support both alternatives. In the latter case, inconsistent facts may provide a basis for alternative pleading.

As of 2017, the term has become defined online and in political context to be another euphemism for falsehood, originating with US press secretary Sean Spicer and his statement about the turnout for last month’s presidential inauguration.

In his first official briefing as press secretary, Spicer delivered a statement accused the media of deliberately falsifying reports covering the size of the crowd attending the inauguration, using trick angles and framed shots to make it seem like few showed up (many other members of the new administration went on to make similar claims of the reports being “lies”). Spicer claimed that Trump’s inauguration had had the largest audience of any president in history, both in person and across the globe, period. He also claimed that the reports couldn’t be accurate because it wasn’t possible to count the crowd.

Spicer’s statement was rather inaccurate. While estimating crowd size is tricky business (ticket sales alone wouldn’t provide much insight), comparisons of aerial photographs and public transportation figures to at least Obama’s inauguration show that the numbers had gone down significantly this time around.

The fact that not that many people witnessed the inauguration should not be a major deal, as it is technically not a direct reflection of the candidate’s abilities as a leader. However, it appears that the now current president’s publicity team where banking on the ceremony being the greatest in american history.

Anyway, when White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway was question about Spicer’s falsehood-containing statement during an interview with Chuck Todd (moderator for NBC’s “Meet the Press), she defended Spicer by claiming that he had merely been stating “alternative facts”. Naturally, this resulted in the term, along with “spicerfacts”, becoming a trending hashtag on tweeter, always paired with a deliberately (and obviously) false statement. Incidentally, it was the trends on Facebook that got me curious about the term. 

Conway made another statement recently that quickly got tied in with alternative facts, when she referenced a nonexistent “Bowling Green Massacre” as one reason for Trump’s immigration ban. Said massacre was supposedly carried out by two Iraqi who came to America through the Iraqi refugee program, and it apparently resulted in Obama placing a six month ban on said program.

While two Iraqi men were arrested in Bowling Green, Kentucky on charges of federal terrorism, there had not been any massacre, nor evidence on a plan for one. Said men were indicted for attempting to provide Al-Qaeda in Iraq with weapons and money (a 2013 Justice Department release concerning them can be found in the links below).

After Conway’s statement was debunked, a clip of the interview went viral. Conway later apologized on twitter for gaffe, claiming she had meant to say “terrorists”. She also criticized the amount of media coverage she received, stating that “honest mistakes occur”, while pointing out mistakes the media had made concerning the Trump administration.

There are a couple different definitions of fact in the dictionary. The main one is basically information that has objective (provable) reality, and the others basically relate to provable existence as well. A reasonable explanation that cannot currently be proven is speculation or conjecture. Something that contradicts all available evidence can be called a falsehood or inaccuracy. Sometimes, the information provided in media is false, and even the accurate reports often have some bias to them. However, this can be fixed by providing  more coverage of actual events than just calling any and all reports wrong. To personally get a good idea on what the news is or isn’t saying, one can easily cross examine multiple reports from independent (as well as contradicting) sources of information.

As far as the current president is concerned, the information being provided is basically all falsehoods, and the various reports on the size of the audience for his inauguration were apparently particularly galling for him. Frankly, if he hadn’t made such a big deal over the news coverage, chances are less people would have noticed or cared about it.

When he went to give a speech at Langley back in January (to mend bridges with the CIA), quite a few minutes of it were devoted to attacking the media. According to him, any criticisms he had made about the intelligence agency made in previous weeks falsehoods made by the media (Spicer’s statement hours later probably derived from this, only his rhetoric obviously received more notice). The meandering speech makes no mention of his previous mockings of the CIA on Twitter, as well as the possibility of him not reading agency briefings. On the bright side, the appointment of Mike Pompeo was apparently well received.

In early February, President Trump basically declared the press to be the enemy of the people. Many presidents before have made some statement of their dislike for the news media, but declaring it an enemy of the people seems to be taking it a bit far, even in comparison to earlier comments by the president on the lack of credibility present in it. Considering that previous holders of the title “Enemy of the American People” included such entities as the USSR and Al-Qaeda, this statement has quite a lot of people worried.

Freedom of the press is a form of expressing the right to freedom of speech, which makes it a fundamental aspect of a democratic society. Censorship of the press by the government is a sign of a more fascist, authoritarian state, such as Nazi Germany or Italy under Mussolini’s rule. Of course, the presidency has not begun to literally go out and hunt down those that openly disagree with it’s version of reality, but there does appear to be a feud brewing.

According to Steve Bannon, the new administration is most certainly going to push against the “corporatist, globalist media” that has been working in opposition to the President’s agenda for political and social growth, and it is only going to get worse.

As of March, the President tweeted that he suspects Obama of having illegally wiretapped Trump tower before and during the 2016 election. He cited no evidence to back up his claim, but is urging Congress to investigate this along side their ongoing look into allegations of Russian hacking during the election.

Both the director of the FBI and and the national intelligence director of the time have denied that any such wiretapping took place. For such a thing to occur, the FBI would have had to have made a case to the Department of Justice, and a warrant would have to have been issued by a judge. In the case of surveillance on US citizens (which would apply to nearly everyone in Trump Tower), an order could not be made without first going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and being approved by the eleven sitting judges (incidentally, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant was issued to the FBI to monitor two Russian banks who’re suspected of facilitating donations to the Trump campaign; the current president’s accusations might have been based on a distorted second hand report). Without stepping way outside of his reach of authority, Obama would not have been able to establish covert surveillance on his eventual replacement.

Despite the lack of evidence or probability that the feds were running surveillance on Trump Tower during the election, the president’s people are standing by what their leader has said, and the vocal supporters are calling out Obama to be investigated. There might be some evidence of wiretapping found, but it could easily mean that some other agency was investigating something else unrelated to the candidacy (it’s a large business building with several different offices and departments; chances are at least one person there could have been suspected of something shady). For what it’s worth, Obama’s people have denied any such order from the man.

Reports can be–and often are–skewed in some way or another, especially when it comes to news sources in the US. However, it is not impossible to get an idea of what is actually going on if you cross-reference and fact check anything of substance that is included (speculation and opinion can just be ignored). As for when the people doing the reports get things wrong, you’re doing something right if you know right away that the information is not factual.

 

Resources:

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/inauguration-crowd-size/514058/

http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/20/politics/donald-trump-barack-obama-inauguration-crowd-size/index.html

http://www.usnews.com/news/entertainment/articles/2017-01-23/alternative-facts-quip-from-trump-adviser-sparks-mockery

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/03/kellyanne-conway-refugees-bowling-green-massacre-never-happened

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/former-iraqi-terrorists-living-kentucky-sentenced-terrorist-activities

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fact

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/21/us/politics/trump-white-house-briefing-inauguration-crowd-size.html?_r=0

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/17/business/trump-calls-the-news-media-the-enemy-of-the-people.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/steve-bannon-media-cpac_us_58af38f3e4b0780bac2761e3

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/23/steve-bannons-not-so-subtle-threat-to-the-media/?utm_term=.c8455c6fd0a4

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39172635